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JtotheH

Got My first Doc Feature (In need of sage wisdom)

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Hey People,

   I'm a newer mixer but I've been a studio engineer for many years. Just moved to NYC and through connections and other smaller jobs I got a feature Documentary. It will be taking me inside mildly high profile courtrooms, into high profile law offices / transporting SUV's. I feel confident in my kit (Mixpre 10t / Tentacle Sync / 416, MKH 40, Sanken Cub / G4 500 wireless x3 & Lectrosonics LMa/UCR 100 x1). 

   Things I am NOT confident about:  Which Mic to use in a courtroom. Pretty sure it'll be packed and not massive, so do I go with the directionality of the 416 or avoid phase problems / having to stick out with movement and mic size and go with MKH40. And, any good tips for courtroom protocol?

   Also, I am going to be under pressure to get rather fast post-trial banter in cars going to and fro law firm. There will *maybe* be enough time to get the main subject wired up but that's it. I am thinking of either using an Ursa lav mount and putting a cos-11 on the back of one of the seats, clamping my MKH 40 somewhere or using the Cub on the roof. If I just saw screw it and throw the "heavy duty" velcro on the roof I think it will hold for the ride. What seems smartest? Gladly will hear a better idea. 

   And...I have never worked with this older series of Lectros. I am really nervous to be doing setting the freq with RF explorer and then using a little screwdriver. Does anyone have any stellar tips or should I just play it safe and borrow another G4? Also, this is NOT in NYC. It's in vegas. 

   Thank you a million million times. Any tips are appreciated. May your day be pleasant and painless.

 

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Congratulations! I've covered several court cases, though mostly as a print journalist and producer. And couple as sound. So I'm not an expert but since JWSG is part of the Internet, that shouldn't stop me. And hopefully your producers have things under control... Anyway:

 

1) Make fast friends with local reporters who know the whims and flexiblity of that particular court, judge, and lawyers involved.

Looks for newspaper, AP, and local TV people (esp camops and still photogs); they'll know how much they're allowed to move, and do. From their input, you'll have a sense if you'll be able to set any plant mics (kudos to your producers if that's already OK'd!), have a directional mic (not shotgun! Bailiffs won't like that term!) that you can move around a bit, or if you'll have to set it and forget it from wherever media (or you if your team has special dispensation) are allowed to stand or sit. And also how much time to allow for getting through security.

 

1.5) Make sure not to draw ANY attention to yourself.

Lawyers (especially when things are going badly) and the judge could kick you out out without warning. I've seen that happen to a couple print reporters and one TV photog. The print reporters were typing loudly during parts of testimony they thought important, and the jury noticed; the judge didn't like that. The TV guy, I didn't see what happened but he was out. 

 

2) Introduce yourself (or have your producer chat with) the court clerk.

Those people are like ADs... Not really in charge, but actually really in charge. They're way overworked, and in a bad moment can shut you down (as can a judge of course). You want to be their friend.

 

3) If there's a court AV person, see if you can get a feed from their audio system. Or use a 416.

That'll depend on the AV person and how much access & support your producers have acquired. If you will only be allowed one mic in court (ie- you're stuck in the press box or something), I'd go for your 416 over your 40. You want some sort of "reach" since I'd guess even a small courtroom will be 20x20 and you might not be allowed to actually extend a boom... But I'm just guessing. Will you be able to boom, or will you basdically be handholding a mic while in court? 

 

4) The car

Wiring your main subject(s) sounds great, but have a Plan B and Plan C and...On the way to court, factor in not only getting the wire on them, but getting it off. I doubt they'll be able to walk into the building, through security, and into the courtroom while wired; and do you want to be in the picture removing the mic as camera rolls on them leaving the car and entering the building?

And on the way out, if it's been a bad day in court (i.e. - a day when you really want the post-court banter), they may not be up for even five seconds of you clipping a lav to their suit lapel and dropping the TX in the inside pocket. And their lawyer might say, "not today; sorry." So be ready to boom the exterior and have the car already set and rolling. Presume the transition time you'll have will be about 0.5 seconds.

How will you get the sound from the mics in the car to a/your recorder? Will you be in the car? Cool(ish)! If not, do you plan to have the car mics connected to transmitters to send audio to you in a follow car? Or will you drop your/a recorder in the trunk? If you're busy inside and outside the courtroom and you won't be getting in the car, maybe get a few cheap recorders (ala small Zooms or Tascams or the little Tascam lav recorders or something) and tape those to the back of the car seat, to the steering wheel, or wherever. And have a PA turn the recorders on as soon as they know you all are leaving the building. That'll create a headache for you (or someone) at the end of the day and for post, and having a couple TX just feeding RX in your bag will be better.... But if that won't work out, little recorders will let you capture something, esp when the lawyers and subject don't want you or anyone in the car.

I mean doing it the right way with mics on visors, etc, is better, but do you have time, crew, and budget for all that? Will the car be driven with the windows rolled down? Will the AC be blasting? Are the producers/directors OK with having plant mics probably show up in some shots (since this isn't scripted and camera will be as harried as you)? Anyway, search the archives for solid thoughts on wiring cars, or just wait for people to chime in here. I've had decent luck with lavs on backs of seats, just above the horn on the steering wheel, on safety belts, in visors, and even (with loud talkers) hanging just below the central rear-view mirror. Just depends. But again, check the archives and wait for better posts from others.

Also: will the car be secure (or have someone standing nearby) while you're in court? 

 

5) Lectro vs Sennheiser

The Lectro UCR100 isn't totally easy to set, but it's not impossible (I had one for several years, but that was quite a while ago). Give it a couple tries before you hit the road, make sure you have a lav with a TA5 connector, then try to get it dialed on location; you should know fairly quickly if it'll work for you. It should give you a bit more range than then G4, which could be useful... Also: Borrow that extra G4 because why not?

 

6) Leave your Leatherman in a production vehicle.

 

7) Pee whenever you get a chance, not just when you have to.

 

8 ) Let the producers & director handle the hard stuff.

People involved in trials are REALLY stressed out. Don't do anything that might prompt them to shut things down. If there's an issue, back off and let the P&D handle and diffuse things.

 

9) Get plenty of sleep.

No late-night shows, gambling, or cavorting with Rado.

 

Well this is all obvious and I'm just procrastinating. So I'm getting back to work. Good luck and let us know how things go!

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Over the years I have done many doc shoots in courtrooms during trials, and I've learned a lot.  First nothing happens in the courtroom without the judge's permission so go into the courtroom with your hat in your hand and say please a lot, be respectful of the courts employees, it's their world and they know it.  Second, I have never been allowed to swing a boom in the courtroom during the trial.  I have always had to rely on the courts AV system or planted mics on the lawyer's tables and in front of the judge and witness box.  The Sanken cubs used wirelessly have worked out quite well.  Jim's good advice and my experiences hopefully will help, good luck.

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Go Professor Jim!   To the OP--that will be a Baptism of Fire--a hard job for even the most experienced best equipped toughest doco mixer.  The only thing I'd add to Jim's advice is that you have to realize that A: you will absolutely NOT get all the audio you or your producer will want and you can't get glum or pissy about it (rejoice in your "gets" and move on right away from the failures),  B: think for the audio post people all the time, and document everything so they can quickly get to what worked well, have an understanding of the scene and who is talking where and why.  In this kind of unpredictable scenario I often end up playing through my tracks later to get info to amend my notes with.   Good luck, let us know what worked for you!

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Thanks so much!

 

1 additional question to add: ok, wiring up subjects, especially female. when doing narrative or commercial I've had enough time and comfort to go for the good spot and clip to the bra for mic placement. I've already gotten word that one of the women lawyers is unforgiving with her time and being fussed with. So my question... in high pressure scenarios for hiding lavs (and they have to be hidden) on professional women and men types, what's your go-to place? I've already double my V clip collection guessing these will be a staple of solid and stable placement.

Can't thank you guys enough for the advice and encouragement.

 

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You might also keep in mind that people (lawyers) aren't big on having you poke visible holes in their clothes with vampire clips etc either.  The thing with talent wiring is that the talent has to be down with it or it won't happen.  If you are going to be shooting these people over a long period of time I'd go in easy, polite and respectful, and then as they get to know you (and hopefully trust you) you might get some cooperation on micing.  The producers have to contain their ambitions, at least at first or you won't get much that they want from these people.

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Phil's totally correct, of course. Consider that male lawyers wear suits costing probably at least $1500 and their ties at least $100. (I recently asked a lawyer friend for suggestions for a new but not too formal briefcase; he suggested a place with prices starting at $800. He's not a jerk; in his lawyer world that's the sort of expenditure expected and even required to not look cheap*). Women lawyers may wear blouses out of silk-like material or shirts & suits or who knows...But the fabric may be delicate. And expensive. Vampire clips are likely not going to fly (same with jokes about lawyers being like vampires 🙂 ). Maybe the same with tape, even if you know it won't leave residue on their clothes, will they believe you and still be up for it? For speed and talent maintenence, you may need to go with gentle rubber-sleeved/coated alligator-style clips.

 

In order of importance for a job like this, lav placement should:

 

1) Get intelligible dialog.

1) Not piss off the talent/subject.

 

19) Be hidden.

 

But if you do have time to hide the mics, great! For men who will probably be wearing dark suits, you may get away with a black lav clipped to their lapel. Maybe you can have the mic inside the lapel if you can create a bit of space between the mic and the shirt underneath, like with the cage mounts TRAM and a bunch of others have, though I don't know offhand of a cage that's also an alligator clip (vs having vampire pins, or expecting to be taped). OTOH, women may wear blazers, and then take them off. Heck, the men may take off their suit jackets in the car (but will likely have them on in court and outside, especially if they'll be making statements to the press). So will it be better to mount to a shirt, or jacket, or tie? Don't know but be ready for anything.

 

Here's a short video demonstrating VT's cage mount (which also includes a magnet mount):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CnQA2U0uJrs

 

Here's Bubblebee's Lav Concealer which a couple people have recommended (I'm going to get a couple to try, but haven't yet). They make versions for specific mics: https://www.bubblebeeindustries.com/collections/the-lav-concealer

 

Search here on JWS for the many good discussions about lav mounting techniques. Hushlav sandwiches have worked for me, but that requires taping (still worth reading about here...IIRC, those threads included thoughtful alternatives and tweaks people have developed over the years). Be ready with several placement and mounting options. But factor in how much time you'll need to set them, and then how much additional time to adjust them if they end up transmitting clothing noise.

 

Since you're in NYC, maybe put on a dress shirt and suit jacket or blazer, and bring a tie, your mics, and $200 to Gotham Sound and try & buy some of the mounting options they have. 

https://www.gothamsound.com/search/category:name/Microphone Accessories/category:child/115/option/sales-297

 

And then know you may have to just quickly clipp on a mic and leave exposed if you have to, though maybe hide the cable. Or not...As in the Pennebaker-Hegedus (and others) film Startup.com. Here's the trailer, where you can see at least one shot with a WTF? lav placement.

https://vimeo.com/19304307

I gotta say, my memory is some of the totally exposed lavs & cables really distracted me when I watched the film years ago...and I still remember! When I pointed it out, my wife said, "Huh? Be quiet." The exposed lavs didn't bug her at all. So if you can have your mics --less-- exposed that in this film, you're winning. 🙂

 

The more experience you have, the faster you'll be able to figure out the best (or at least a good) course of action for the situation and time you face. Which gives me a chance to repeat my favorite aphorism:

 

Good judgment comes from experience 

Experience comes from bad judgment

 

 

If you have a day when you get more experience than you want, have a nice meal, get a good night's sleep, and know that the next day will be better. Even if that ends up not being true, that attitude will help you continue to be a valuable contributor to the project. At least, that approach has helped me get through stressful jobs. 

 

This sounds like a cool gig. After a day or two, you and the rest of the crew will know how to work with the lawyers and everyone. It's going to be hard and it's going to be great!

 

 

*I ended up buying one of these bags: https://www.sfbags.com/collections/briefcases/products/executive-leather-laptop-messenger 

 

 

 

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That's way more than I was expecting!

 Thanks guys. Yes, I mic people up all the time and conceal. Just haven't done it on people that will, at most, give me 3 minutes of time. I just got to see some footage of the main subject from a previous shoot and he was wearing it in the knot of the tie, which is my favorite place anyway!

 

Jh

 

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I have also a coupe of concealers but my favorite mounting option is to cut an ursa foamie in half and attach it with a sticky. Works perfect on a variety of mounting places. Because of the protection of the foam I never get any clothing rustle. They are available in two colors (black and white) and two sizes (foamies and mini foamies). I use the regular ones. Just prepare them in advance and you can rig them quick and easy. Here's a short demo...

 

 

Greetings

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You have the chops, just be ready to have no time, no pins, and no tape. And no time. If you have any of those, you're golden. If not, have a way to be silver or bronze.

 

If it's cool with production, post some pix! I look forward to seeing them. 

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Now in Florida with a different lawyer. Supposedly this one is not as crotchety (sp?) as the other one. Still, I went with my fav and did a cos-11 in the knot of the tie. He was irritated for a second (more confused why I wasn't just throwing something on his lapel). Then I gave him a line that he had such a nice baritone voice I really wanted to capture the full range of it. I have a strong feeling the next guy micing him will be judged if he DOESN'T do it in the knot ;)

Here's the new challenge this week: Recording a speakerphone call! They might have some media broadcast booth setup and I can tap into the lines, but I somehow doubt that will work. What do you think, 416 directly out of frame dead on the speaker of the phone? Cub on the table? Can't get specifics but pretty sure it's a landline and not a cell phone I'll be capturing from.

 

Hoping to get photos this time!

JH

On 9/16/2019 at 11:28 AM, pillepalle said:

I have also a coupe of concealers but my favorite mounting option is to cut an ursa foamie in half and attach it with a sticky. Works perfect on a variety of mounting places. Because of the protection of the foam I never get any clothing rustle. They are available in two colors (black and white) and two sizes (foamies and mini foamies). I use the regular ones. Just prepare them in advance and you can rig them quick and easy. Here's a short demo...

Abosolutely. I'm new to this racket, but I quickly became a fan of the foamies. Need to try cutting them in half!

On 9/16/2019 at 11:28 AM, pillepalle said:

 

 

Greetings

 

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On 9/24/2019 at 11:30 AM, JtotheH said:

Here's the new challenge this week: Recording a speakerphone call! They might have some media broadcast booth setup and I can tap into the lines, but I somehow doubt that will work. What do you think, 416 directly out of frame dead on the speaker of the phone? Cub on the table? Can't get specifics but pretty sure it's a landline and not a cell phone I'll be capturing from.

 


There are dedicated tools for this you could use, such as one or more of these:

https://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/buy/Telephone-Audio-Interfaces/ci/8815/N/4291085905

Otherwise, just throw a lav on the handset and call it a day. 

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On 9/25/2019 at 12:36 PM, Rick Reineke said:

+1. It is simple and works.

 

Yep. Threw a lav on it because I had no fucking time to do anything else and...worked great. Jesus I had so many new situations thrown at me in one job. I feel like I just went threw run n' gun boot camp. 

Thank you all so much!

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It’s entirely possible to wire a tie without any tape or pins. I never have any luck with going under the lapel. Sounds terrible, consistently. I would get some bubblebee rubber mounts for the ladies the new kind that have the wire clothes buffer pair that with Rycote sticky squares (much better adhesive than original Stickies) and show them how to self apply to their skin. 

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